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Publisher's Summary

The Overlords appeared suddenly over every city - intellectually, technologically, and militarily superior to humankind. Benevolent, they made few demands: unify earth, eliminate poverty, and end war. With little rebellion, humankind agreed, and a golden age began.

But at what cost? With the advent of peace, man ceases to strive for creative greatness, and a malaise settles over the human race. To those who resist, it becomes evident that the Overlords have an agenda of their own.

As civilization approaches the crossroads, will the Overlords spell the end for humankind...or the beginning?

BONUS AUDIO: Includes an exclusive introduction by Hugo Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer, who explains why this novel, written in the 1950s, is still relevant today.

©2001 Arthur C. Clarke; (P)2008 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"In Eric Summerer's capable hands, the plot of Childhood's End is smoothly presented and fully credible. He highlights the patient nature of the Overlords, which has caused humans to become ever more complacent. Summerer excels at delivering the aliens' quiet and intensely engaging dialogue with people. His nuanced performance creates a growing feeling of uneasiness in the listener as the Overlords' insatiable curiosity and watchfulness begin to suggest something less than benign at work." (AudioFile)

What members say

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  • Ryan
  • Somerville, MA, United States
  • 09-30-12

Still a classic of visionary science fiction

The last time I read this book was when it was assigned to my English class in eighth grade, and it was a pleasure to come back to as an adult and re-experience the same emotions I did back then. This is science fiction about the wonder and awe of discovery, the bittersweetness of letting go of the primitive past, and the ultimate destiny of the human race. It's not a dystopian or cautionary tale, as so much science fiction, but a book about what it means for our species to reach adulthood -- and a sacrifice that that may one day demand of us.

The story begins, in classic form, with the visitation of beings from the stars. The Overlords arrive on Cold War-era Earth in immense, silver starships, and immediately establish themselves as vastly superior, but benevolent masters. Yet, they refuse to reveal themselves in person (at least not right away) or explain their ultimate purposes. Here, one might guess, as some characters do, at sinister intentions.

But, nothing so crude comes to pass, and Clarke proceeds to a new generation of characters, as the Overlords usher in a new era of peace and worldwide prosperity for the human race. Not to mention a certain amount of ennui and loss of purpose, as mankind finds that most of its traditional problems are solved. Yet, a few people continue to puzzle over the mysteries about the Overlords and chafe against the restrictions they still impose. What are the reasons? Several intrepid explorers begin to find out.

The writing is simple and unadorned, and the characters not particularly complex in their construction (not to mention a bit 1950s), but there's a subtle eloquence to the way the story unfolds, each stage in the human race's progress revealing a little more about the fate that must eventually come. And Clarke's writing is still a pleasure to read for its vision, its thoughtful ideas about the forms that different alien races might take, the capabilities of advanced technology, and how human society might continue to function when the primary need is that of avoiding boredom. Though a few assumptions are showing their age (newspapers, radio), much of this 1953 story still speaks to the 21st century. Clarke continues to remind us of how little we know about what's out there in the universe, or how limited our evolution has been compared to what's possible.

Read it, if you haven't yet. Or read it again. Childhood's End is one of the works that sets the template for great science fiction, and will likely still contain meaning for new readers in fifty years.

4.5 stars.

37 of 38 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Food for Thought

Great dialogue and deeply-drawn characters were never Arthur C. Clarke's strengths. Instead, what makes him an all-time great are his IDEAS. And CHILDHOOD'S END is as good a novel of ideas as sci-fi has seen. The story is somewhat simplistic: a powerful alien race descends upon Earth and dominates the peoples of the planet, ostensibly for their own good. Earth, essentially, accedes to the Overlords - and a Golden Age ensues. But Man's ultimate fate is not necessarily the one we'd choose for ourselves. This was an especially resonant theme for the 1950's, when the Nazi threat of WWII was a fresh experience - and the Cold War loomed. But it's no less urgent a message for today.

The book does take a while to get going, and the latter half is far more satisfying and better written. (Thankfully, Eric Michael Summerer's narration more than makes up for the sluggish pace early on.) If some of the characterizations and technology seem archaic, that's actually perfectly consistent with the story - after all, the immediate impact of the Overlords' rule is that Mankind stops advancing - technologically, artistically and spiritually. The world of the future remains the world of the 1950's.

In a contemporary author's hands, the same story would be told with more elegant prose. But the ideas are as fresh as ever - and CHILDHOOD'S END gave me much to think about.

52 of 55 people found this review helpful

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Bittersweet... Mind boggling.... Eye opening....

I just finished listening this book, did so under the request of a friend of mine. This is a sci-fi classic and with this being my first sci-fi novel really I must say I am impressed of course but... to say this is bittersweet is an understatement if you ask me.

The narration is not super great but it is adequate enough. I found it a bit laughable when he tries to voice the children but he was able to describe the feeling well enough. His tone and voice is poignant enough to keep your attention, It could have been better, but it could have been worse of course.

The word I would use most to speak about the story itself is... bittersweet. While listening to the book I was intrigued all the way, which speaks well of both the story and the narration but as the book closed I started getting a bit... saddened as to how I saw it ending. I won't ruin the story for anyone but you will understand when you get there. It does have some very interesting points, makes one truly wonder about the fate of humanity in a sense and I must confess I remember having my own theories regarding alien existence which is akin to this... but I does end on a bit of a sad note if you ask me.

For my first sci-fi novel, it really does a good job to me about representing the genre, I will say out-right though that this might not be my cup of tea, but it was well done. Decent narration, great concept story-wise but a bittersweet ending.

35 of 39 people found this review helpful

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  • Little
  • SAlem, OR, United States
  • 12-05-11


It is amazing that in his time, Clarke could imagine such awesome events. While hard to follow the details at times, they are important to the story, and fill in the blanks as you go along. Eric and Robert keep you drenched in the story, and wanting more.

The end is unexpected, but nicely tied up!

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Albertina
  • Decatur, Illinois, United States
  • 11-19-11

Childhood's End-what a great listen! Thx Clarke

Where does Childhood's End rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is my 1st audio book & loved it 40+ yrs ago & still love it now. It is even better the 2nd time around. Due to arthritis I had stopped reading as much as I use to & had trepidations about using Audible. At first I kept falling asleep during the reading (probably due to medications) but then I figured out how to just listen to a section at a time unless I was able to sit at the computer on my good days. This was also helpful allowing me to listen to larger sections w/out falling asleep. My falling asleep does not mean that this book was boring, it was anything but, Well, after a bit I was totally into the book as if I were reading it myself.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Childhood's End?

Can't say bcz it would give away one of the book's surprises/shocks.

Have you listened to any of Eric Michael Summerer and Robert J. Sawyer (Introduction) ’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No, I have not bcz this is my 1st Audible book.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Only extreme reaction I had was curiosity and shock. Curiosity drove me from one chapter to the next & shock came more than once but especially near/at the end. However, if you have never read the book before there will definitely be more than one shock. The shock came at the end for me bcz I did not remember the ending from 40+ yrs ago but I did remember another shocking moment very clearly & every time I heard Arthur C Clark's name, I remembered that shocking moment. There were other instances when I remembered that shocking moment. But if I tell you what those instances were, it would give away one of the surprises and or shocks in the book.

Any additional comments?

The story is as marvelous as it was before. I swear Arthur C Clarke has the best imagination ever. You start w/the usual alien invasion but there is nothing usual after that. Clarke keeps you hanging in there wondering what, why, how, etc. at every step. If you like violence (so called action), faeries, vampires, etc., this is not the book for you. If you like cerebral mysteries like Poirot, Agatha Christie, etc, you will be totally engrossed in this best of the best sci-fi novel. Listen to it now! Use as a read for your book club-it will give you a whole lot to talk about. This is science fiction at its best! Remember, listen to it as soon as you can! Your intellect needs it, trust me. This book is like manna from heaven and listening to it w/out having to deal w/a book in your hand makes it so easy to enjoy.

25 of 28 people found this review helpful

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  • Joey
  • Charlotte, NC, USA
  • 02-19-09

My all time favorite book

After seeing and loving the movie "2001" in the 70's, I began to read Clarke exclusively. This one turned out to be his best and I've reread it many times over the years. The sheer imagination of this story took me on a journey I'll never forget. I was thrilled when it came out as a new selection at Audible and the production is great. If there's ever a time like "Fahrenheit 451" this will absolutely be the book I'll memorize.

23 of 26 people found this review helpful

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This book like many of Clarke's is a political statement or conversation. If an alien race came to our world and ended our ability to make war, what would be the result? Of course things are slanted in Clarke's favor as would be expected since he wrote the book. Clarke has always been anti-war and anti-religion. If you are strongly sensitive about religion, you might take offense to this book and many of Clarke's writings. I find it interesting that he seems to believe in a soul. The simple act of taking away man's ability to make war, seems to take away some of his rights. It could be compared to the gun control debate of today. In this book he says in the future we will not care about the difference in skin color. He paints a picture of a future South Africa, where the blacks are in controll and the minority whites are discriminated against. The overlords give the whites equal rights, but not control. This was written in 1953. He talks about the abundance of entertainment, especially TV, that will be available in the future. He is astonished that in the future man will spend an average of 3 hours a day watching TV. He talks about soap operas, but they way he says it, it sounds similar to Reality TV. We have the Federation and the word Futile is mentioned. I wonder if Gene Roddenberry was a fan?

One of my favorite parts was when ten thousand people felt the wound given to a bull in a bull fight. The Overlords, said that we could kill each other, but not animals, except for food or self-defense. Once everybody felt the pain a bull goes through in a bull fight, that was the end of that. As liberating as Clarke was and all of the things this brilliant man saw, he did not see women as equals. He does not consciously put them down, he just refers to them as weak stay at home types and they never have leadership roles. It often depresses me, in how he looks at man and he often reminds us on how small we are in comparison to the universe. He might be right, but it is not anything I liked rammed down my throat. There are no character development in any of Clarke's books, they are usually thought driven. They are often on an epic scale. The second half of this book goes into a sort of metaphysical stage and honestly kind of weird. I was not crazy about the ending.

If you are a Clarke fan, or big into Science Fiction, than this is a must read. This is a good look into the mind of a genius. Being a genius he is still not correct in all things, but it is amazing the amount of things he got right and may still get right in the even more distant future.

22 of 25 people found this review helpful

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  • Noe
  • Edinburg, TX, United States
  • 01-21-09

One of the best SF novels ever.

Readers unfamiliar with the early great works of science-fiction may fail to grasp the significance of this novel. It towers alongside H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds as the best of the alien invasion genre. So many lesser writers and movie producers have borrowed heavily from Arthur C. Clarke's rich narrative and deep insight into human existence. But let none be deceived: here is the pure source - a marvel from one of the SF masters. This is a very good reading as well and overall a truly enjoyable listening experience.

22 of 25 people found this review helpful

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  • Ken
  • East Lansing, MI, United States
  • 11-02-11

Fascinating look at the upheaval of alien contact

Although it is amusing hearing references to some of the outdated technology (the advance ETs communicate through cutting edge teletype machines!), those are only minor quibbles in a very unique and interesting story. The arrival of a far more powerful and intelligent extraterrestrial race is handled in a way I have never heard before. It was refreshing for an advance species to arrive, bring peace on Earth, and... not secretly be waiting to eat us all, but honestly helping us!

Having the story play out over generations also conveys the massive impact and societal change this has in a believable and well explored manner. You know they are thinking long term when they say more or less, "We need to wait until only those born after our arrival are around to reveal that." I could definitely see a lot of other stories told in the generations that this novel covers.

The only thing holding it back in my mind is that the main thrust of the story that leads to a very dramatic conclusion kind of came out of nowhere for me. Even a hint earlier than half way through might have helped. It didn't ruin it for me, but given the world the first half sets up, there was a definite point that stretched my suspension of disbelief beyond what I expected. But the story was fascinating enough that I just went with it and was glad I did. That shift was pretty jarring at first, however. If you can't roll with it, then I imagine the ending has got to be a disappointing "What the-?!"

The narration is very good, but compared to some of the amazing narration some stories have on Audible, it's not to that level. So if I can only give 5 stars to those, this has to settle for 4. Some narrations are so great, that they really enhance the story. This narration is one of those that instead manages to nicely get out of the way and let the story speak for itself.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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This book is a good example of the drive toward making sci-fi more abstract (not sure if that's the right word -maybe "next-dimension-y" is better) and out-there around the late sixties. This book doesn't have one set of main characters that one could follow from start to end. Instead the story is told through a few sets of characters spread over a period of a hundred years. And, the plot moves along to a fantastic, mind-bendingly abstract / next-dimension-y sort of finish.

This is just my second Arthur Clark novel. I read "2001: A Space Oddity" first. This novel was one of the author's first and, in the view of some, his best. Personally, I liked 2001 better. I did not find the characters in this novel all that engaging, even though the overarching story was really quite good.

I'd still recommend this novel to sci-fi fans as a neat story and worth their time.

I've read it's being made into a miniseries to be released in December 2015. The story is good, so hopefully the miniseries does it justice and makes the characters more likable to boot.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • 03-31-10


I guess the true beauty of this book is not so much the journey but the thoughtfulness it provokes when finished. It made me want to join a book appreciation society that i might find someone to discuss it with. In the end i annoyed my friends on facebook until they read it too. i'm pleased to see that everyone has a different stance on it and everyone had their own person/race to empathise with. The book can be heart-breaking but only if you are the sort of person who dwells on a book on completion.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Sara
  • 06-09-09

Good but depressing

I enjoyed this book. It was well written and thought-provoking, but the ending seemed somewhat empty and hopeless, although I expect other listeners will interpret it differently. It is certainly worth listening to and is well narrated, and I can understand why it is regarded as a classic, although some of the plot-lines seem a bit higgledy-piggledy and unsuccessfully shaped to fit.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • James
  • 12-29-12

A Classic well worth the listen

Not the greatest narration, and written some time ago so some technological references were a little dated.

But none the less it is a classic with some great twists and real impact.

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  • Michael
  • 04-16-11

An engrossing performance; vintage Sci-Fi

A great audiobook performance means you don't notice the narrator. Eric Michael Summer puts in a clear well-voiced performance. Like all the best performers, Summer's range persuades you to forget only one man is doing the voices; you soon get immersed in the story.

Childhood's End is a mini-epic of a novel, written with Clarke's usual clarity and poignancy. For those of us who have been downloading his five volumes of Collected Short Stories from Audible, Childhood's End is a MUST. And certainly my book of choice for my desert island disc selection.